When I grew up in the eighties, I hated movies from the seventies. Really hated them with a vengeance. I saw them as depressive social-realistic bores that would make me physically sick and I much preferred the lightweight escapism of the eighties. That was a child’s sentiments of course and believe my taste in movies has matured a bit since then.
Yet, “Wanda”, this my first movie of 1971, took me straight back to my childhood’s idea of a depressive seventies’ movie. On a very primal level it triggered some of those reactions I thought I had put behind me a lot time ago.
Wanda (Barbara Loden) is a very unfortunate woman. Mostly because she is, frankly, rather dim. At the opening of the movie she simply walks out of her family, leaving husband and children behind. To all appearance she just did not feel like being there anymore. She quickly runs out of money and cannot get a job at the local factory. Clearly the manager knows here and does not want her back. Instead she gets picked up by a travelling salesman for sex. He quickly dumps her, and she gets nothing out of it but an ice cream.
Later she bumps into a guy, Mr. Dennis (Michael Higgins), who is in the process of robbing a bar. Wanda has no clue what is going on and hooks up with him. He treats her badly (what would you expect of a guy who robs bars?), but Wanda has no place else to go so she hangs out with him. Eventually I suppose it dawns on her that they are basically a sort of Bonnie and Clyde team now, but she does not seem too concerned. It is only when Mr. Dennis wants Wanda to play a role in a bank robbery that that she realizes that this is not a good thing.
The bank robbery is a screw-up and Mr. Dennis get himself killed by the police and Wanda, she is back to square one.
It is so clear from the very beginning that Wanda has absolutely nothing good going for her. Everything about her is terrible and she is hopelessly unsuited to deal with… anything. We know therefore that this can only go one way and in the best seventies social realistic tradition it heads straight for the trash bin. Realizing that, I knew I had to keep the movie at an arm’s length because this was going to get touch, but I needed not to worry too much. At no point did I get to feel real sympathy for Wanda and it even got to the point where her misery got almost funny. Seriously, choosing to hang out with a brutal bank-robber is so poor a choice that she practically asks to be abused. Also her obliviousness to her dismal situation is almost funny if it was not so very tragical.
The crime, one could say, here is that a woman so incapable to take care of herself is left to wander around and that a social system should have been able to pick her up, but the Wandas of the real world will always go around and throw their life away even in the best of systems. She is not stupid enough to be institutionalized but also not smart enough to take care of herself. She falls in between and there she will only be exploited and abused till there is nothing left.
“Wanda” is touted as a feminist movie, but I have difficulty seeing that. Man or woman, it does not really matter. The Wandas of the world live terrible lives and that is a social issue, not a feminist issue.
I cannot really recommend “Wanda” as I do not wish this misery-fest on anybody. Depressive seventies social realism, hurrah, I have truly arrived at the seventies…